DIVA TALK: Lloyd Webber's Unexpected Songs, Tony Winners at the Cabaret Plus News of Egan and LaMott

Diva Talk   DIVA TALK: Lloyd Webber's Unexpected Songs, Tony Winners at the Cabaret Plus News of Egan and LaMott News, views and reviews about the multi-talented women of the musical theatre and the concert/cabaret stage.
Eden Espinosa belted out Lloyd Webber's
Eden Espinosa belted out Lloyd Webber's "Whistle Down the Wind" at the Unexpected Songs concert

UNEXPECTED SONGS: THE LESSER KNOWN TUNES OF ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER

As I've written before, Evita was the show that hooked me on musical theatre when I was in the sixth grade, so I've always been fond of the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose gift for melody seems often taken for granted. If I found his works through the early nineties — Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Evita, Jesus Christ Superstar, Song and Dance, Cats, Aspects of Love and Sunset Boulevard — more musically interesting than such later fare as Whistle Down the Wind and Beautiful Game, there are always musical gifts lying within Lloyd Webber shows.

This past Monday evening, Robert Diamond presented an evening devised by Eddie Varley that paid tribute to the "lesser-known tunes of Andrew Lloyd Webber." Titled Unexpected Songs, the one-night-event at Joe's Pub featured direction and witty narration by Jamie McGonnigal with musical direction by Mark Hartman. The five-piece band that shone throughout the evening — Hartman on piano, Brian J. Nash on keyboards, Michael Blanco on bass, Greg Joseph on drums and Amie Weiss on violin — kicked off the proceedings with a rollicking version of Cats' "Jellicle Ball."

Tina Maddigan, who was part of the original cast of Broadway's Mamma Mia!, was the first of the evening's many vocalists, delivering the Song and Dance anthem "Unexpected Song." If she didn't erase memories of Bernadette Peters or Betty Buckley's versions, Maddigan did fine with the rangy tune. Elaine Caswell offered a jazzy take on "The Perfect Year," which was followed by the one Lloyd Webber tune of the evening I had never heard, "It's Easy for You." Apparently one of the last songs ever recorded by Elvis Presley, the tune was well performed by Wonderful Town's Ray McLeod.

One of the evening's highlights followed, a "boy-band" rendition of Whistle Down the Wind's "No Matter What" that featured the talents of Mick Bleyer, Mike Busillo, Mike Minarik and Ben Thompson. I was then introduced to the beautiful vocals of Jessica Grové, who soared on By Jeeves' "Half a Moment." Grové possesses a rich tone and seems to easily glide from chest to head tones. (Lloyd Webber aficionados certainly recognized the song's bridge, which the composer later lifted for Sunset Boulevard's best tune, "As If We Never Said Goodbye.") Maddigan returned for a duet of Woman in White's "I Believe in My Heart" with her former Mamma Mia! co-star, Joe Machota, and Rob Evan scored with a high-voltage take on Lloyd Webber and Jim Steinman's A Kiss Is a Terrible Thing to Waste. Max von Essen lent his rangy, powerful tenor to another Woman in White tune, "Evermore Without You," and Kristy Cates had some fun with a revised version of Song and Dance's "Capped Teeth and Caesar Salad."

Grové and Marc Kudisch did well with Aspects of Love's "First Man You Remember," and Jennifer Malenke displayed the range of her soprano on the little-heard "Recordare" from Lloyd Webber's Variations. Tom Hewitt, recently on Broadway in the ill-fated Dracula, lent his vocals to Whistle's "Vaults of Heaven," and Mick Bleyer returned for a duet with Julie Garnyé on "Could We Start Again Please," a tune penned for the film of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Despite a bit of trouble with her microphone chord, Natalie Joy Johnson — of Bare fame — scored with a belty "Anything But Lonely," and Wicked's Marty Thomas brought down the house with his rock-n-roll take of "Tire Tracks and Broken Hearts."

I especially enjoyed the beautiful sounds of cellist Peter Sachon, who offered the first four of Lloyd Webber's Variations, and the evening concluded with Broadway's newest belter, Brooklyn's Eden Espinosa. Espinosa, whose belting range seems limitless, offered a stentorian take on Whistle Down the Wind's title tune. A wonderful way to end a lovely evening of unexpected songs.

TONY WINNERS AT THE CABARET

What a great season for cabaretgoers! The legendary Chita Rivera is currently delighting audiences at Feinstein's at the Regency with her first nightclub engagement in years. Rivera, most recently on Broadway in the Tony-winning revival of Nine, is offering an evening featuring tunes by Jerry Herman, Jacques Brel, Cy Coleman and, of course, John Kander and Fred Ebb. Song titles include "I Don't Want to Know," "I Won't Dance," "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," "Sweet Happy Life," "Mas Que Nada," "Love Is Here to Stay," "Where Am I Going?," "You & Me," "The Glory of Love," "Carousel," "Love and Love Alone," "Not Exactly Paris," "The Barber of Seville" (with a special lyric by the late Ebb), "Circle of Friends," "Ev'ry Street's a Boulevard in Old New York," "Here's to Us," "All That Jazz" and "I'm in Love Again." Rivera also offers a Men/Women medley that features bits and pieces of "Rosie," "Maria," "I Feel Pretty," "Satin Doll," "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "In the Mood," "Sweet Lorraine," "A Little Girl from Little Rock," "All I Need Is the Girl," "I Enjoy Being a Girl," "Waiting Around for the Girls Upstairs," "I'm One of the Girls," "Soliloquy," "Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey," "If I Were a Rich Man," "My Man's Gone Now," "Bess You Is My Woman Now" and "The Man I Love." Accompanied by musical director Mark Hummel on piano, Michael Croiter on percussion/guitar and Jim Donica on bass, Rivera plays Feinstein's through March 12; visit www.feinsteinsattheregency.com for more information.

Another thrilling, Tony Award-winning actress, Betty Buckley, will open her newest show, A Time for Love, March 1 at the Cafe Carlyle. Buckley will hold fort at the posh club through April 9. Backed by Kenny Werner on piano, Tony Marino on bass and Jamey Haddad on percussion, audiences can expect to hear Buckley wrap her inimitable voice around such tunes as "Good Night, New York" (Julie Gold), "Where Time Stands Still" (Mary Chapin Carpenter), "Day In Day Out" (Rube Bloom and Johnny Mercer), "A Time for Love" (Johnny Mercer and Paul Francis Webster), "On the 4th of July" (James Taylor), "New Coat of Paint" (Tom Waits), "Midnight Sun" (Lionel Hampton, Sonny Burke and Johnny Mercer) and "You Are There" (Johnny Mandel and David Frishberg). Call (212) 744-1600 for reservations; visit www.thecarlyle.com for more information.

Before Buckley begins her reign, however, Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins will make her solo American Songbook concert debut this Saturday, Feb. 26, in the Time Warner Center's glorious new Allen Room. Pinkins will celebrate the 100th birthday of the late Harold Arlen in her 7:30 and 9:30 PM shows. Expect the Caroline, or Change star to deliver passionate renditions of "Get Happy," "Anyplace I Hang My Hat Is Home," "Napoleon," "I Had Myself a True Love," "I've Got the World on a String," "One for the Road," "The American Negro Suite," "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," "Come On, Midnight," "Blues in the Night," "Stormy Weather," "Black Magic," "Push De Button" and "Right as the Rain." Tickets, priced $30, $40 and $60, are available by calling (212) 721-6500 or by visiting www.lincolncenter.org.

DIVA TIDBITS
Beauty and the Beast's Susan Egan will join the West Coast Singers for The Beauty of Broadway: An Evening with Susan Egan and the West Coast Singers. The March 19 concert to benefit the singing organization will be held at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Art Park (4800 Hollywood Blvd.). The festivities begin at 5:30 PM when VIP ticket holders will have the chance to meet the star of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Triumph of Love and Cabaret. The silent auction and concert begin at 6:30 PM. Tickets, priced $25 and $50, are available by calling (800) 439-4927 or by visiting www.westcoastsingers.org. Founded in 1983, the West Coast Singers seek "to educate and facilitate mutual respect between the gay and lesbian community and the community at large, as well as to sing to our fullest potential, making the best music that can be made."

Be sure to check out the newly designed Nancy LaMott website by visiting Click Here. With the great success of LaMott's "new" recording, "Nancy LaMott: Live at Tavern on the Green," comes word of another posthumous release. Composer-producer David Friedman writes, "We're hard at work on the next CD. It will be called 'Ask Me Again' and will contain the 20 songs that Jonathan Schwartz plays [on his radio program] that are not currently available on CD. It should be gorgeous. We're also figuring out which DVDs to put out first and exploring ways to promote Nancy on TV through movies and documentary." The site also contains news, reviews and a message board for Nancy's many loyal fans.

The second solo recording from Tony Award winner Kristin Chenoweth will hit stores on the Sony Classical label April 5. Entitled "As I Am," the 13-track disc boasts a brand-new tune by Diane Warren as well as traditional hymns and gospel favorites plus covers of hit Amy Grant, Faith Hill, Sandi Patti and Trisha Yearwood tunes. The complete track list follows: "It Will Be Me," "Word of God Speak," "Because He Lives," "Abide in Me," "Borrowed Angels," "There Will Never Be Another," "Poor, Wayfaring Stranger," "Joyful, Joyful," "The Song Remembers When," "Power," "Just As I Am," "Upon This Rock" and "Taylor, the Latte Boy." Debby Boone — of "You Light Up My Life" fame — was one of the many stars to catch Brian Stokes Mitchell's recent cabaret debut at Feinstein's at the Regency. Boone will take to the intimate stage of Feinstein's herself this May in a new show directed by Richard Jay-Alexander. From May 10-21, Boone will celebrate the release of her new CD, "Reflections of Rosemary," which pays tribute to her late mother-in-law, Rosemary Clooney. Feinstein's will also continue its "Broadway's Brightest Stars" series with Orfeh (March 7) and Bare's Natalie Joy Johnson and Adam Fleming (March 28). Visit www.feinsteinsattheregency.com for more information.

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Debby Boone and Brian Stokes Mitchell at Feinstein's at the Regency
Debby Boone and Brian Stokes Mitchell at Feinstein's at the Regency